World-class beaches, desert islands and historical towns are part and parcel of holidays to Punta Cana, also known as the Coconut Coast.
The Coconut Coast
The 3 S’s sum up the state of play in Punta Cana. The sun, sea and sand on the Dominican Republic’s eastern edge are rated among the best in the world. More than 50 miles of coast runs from Bavaro to Uvero Alto and beyond. And most of it is backed by nut-bearing palm trees – earning this region the title of the Coconut Coast.
Isla Saona and Catalina Island
Punta Cana has a twin set of tropical islands. Isla Saona and Catalina Island are real castaway territory. Both lozenges of land lie off the south coast of the country and are protected as natural parks, so they’re completely untainted by the trappings of tourism.
Santo Domingo and Higuey
If you want a break from the coast, Punta Cana is home to some of the Caribbean’s most historical cities. Santo Domingo is one of the oldest settlements in the New World and Higuey is the site of a legendary battle, in which an apparition of the Virgin Mary is said to have saved Christopher Columbus from defeat at the hands of the Taino warriors.
Things to See and Do in Punta Cana
Sand and sunsets
The 50 miles of beaches in Punta Cana have a celebrity following. Singers, former presidents, and fashion designers have all been spotted on the region’s sands. Facilities like watersports and restaurants are thick on the ground. Plus, the sunloungers on the beach are the best seats in the Dominican Republic’s house for watching the sunset.
The big beach
The name of Bavaro Beach often crops up in conversations concerning the best beaches in the world. This runway of sugar-white sand offers a different watersport for every day of the week. Plus, it’s backed by some of the best hotels in the Dominican Republic.
The secret beach
Punta Cana doesn’t hold its cards close to its chest when it comes to beaches. Most of the stretches of sand in this region are fairly well known. One of the most left-alone beaches, however, is Cabezo de Toro. It’s a 20-minute drive from Bavaro, and most people don’t make the journey because they’re content with the sand on their doorstep.
Bermudez, Brugal, and Barcelo are the top rum brands in the Dominican Republic and you don’t have to look hard if you want to buy a bottle. The beach vendors sell it from their sand-top stalls on El Cortecito and Punta Cana Beach. For tee-total gifts, try the area of Uvero Alto Beach between Hotel Sirens and Dreams. There are a few souvenir shops here selling art work and hand-made jewellery.
Larimar is a rare blue stone that’s unique to the Dominican Republic. It looks like a cross between turquoise and topaz and you can buy it in the jewellery shops in Altos de Chavon and in the Plaza Bavaro shopping area in Punta Cana. Some of the top hotels have their own jewellers, too, including the Club Hotel Riu Bambu in Bavaro.
You could blow the kids’ inheritance in one spree at the Casa de Campo Marina near Bayahibe, an hour’s drive from Bavaro. The boutiques here are part of a luxury lifestyle complex and the rails are dripping with designer labels like Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana and Prada. Closer to home, a lot of the All Inclusive hotels in Bavaro have their own clothing boutiques, including the Riu Palace Punta Cana.
If you’re staying in an All Inclusive hotel, the entertainment options are under your nose. Almost every property will put on an evening show of dancing, comedy or live music. If you like the look of what’s on at a neighbouring hotel, they’ll usually charge you a small amount for admission. If you want to venture further afield, there are a few bars in Bavaro, around Ave. Espana.
Most hotels have a disco in their entertainment arsenal. The Arieto in the Caribe Club Princess Resort in Punta Cana is one of the most talked about, thanks to its Indian artefact decorations. Pacha in the Riu resort comes highly recommended, too. This place puts on live merengue and bachata bands on a regular basis. Outside of the hotels, the Friusa area of Bavaro is the place to go. One of the nightclubs here is inside a natural cave.
This is the Dominican Republic’s national dish. Locals tend to eat it for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. The dish is a combination of rice, red beans, stewed goat and fried plantains. Dominican goats graze on oregano, so the meat in this dish has a deep flavour, like it’s been marinated.
This recipe has been handed down from the Dominican Republic’s indigenous Taino population. The dish is a crispy flatbread, made with yucca flour. It’s a versatile food-stuff and can be eaten for breakfast with coffee, baked and served with soup at lunch, or served as an accompaniment to hot chocolate at supper.
These crispy fritters are ten-a-penny in the Dominican Republic. Street vendors sell them as lunch on the go and restaurants serve them up as side dishes. They’re made by mixing grated yucca with batter and they’re deep fried.
Forget cornflakes, the big breakfast in the Dominican Republic is mangu. The dish is savoury and, in its rawest form, it’s made from mashed plantains and sautéed onions. It’s given the extra-factor by adding scrambled eggs, cooked meat and white cheese.
This is the Dominican Republic’s moonshine. It’s made by allowing rum, red wine and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. Like vintage wine, it tastes better the longer it’s left to stew. The end product is served in shot glasses and it tastes a little bit like port.
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This shiny new resort arrived on the scene in 2001, and is quickly making its name as a popular Caribbean holiday spot. With a selection of grand, five-star resorts, a marina packed with glistening yachts, and three professional Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses, it’s a glamorous place to stay. Nature’s on its side, too. The beaches are ranked among the world’s best and there’s a huge ecological reserve on the doorstep.
Uvero Alto is one of the most secluded villages on Punta Cana’s exclusive Coconut Coast, a majestic 50-kilometre sweep of tropical shoreline in the north-east of the Dominican Republic. Pull back the curtain of coconut trees and there’s a blanket of duvet-soft sands, where a select number of high-class resorts have put down roots.
Set on the Dominican Republic’s east coast, Bavaro is a small town with a lot to offer. For starters, its upscale hotels come with spas and infinity pools as standard. And then there’s the fabulous beach, where pure white sand streches along the coastline for 10 kilometres, alongside turqoise waters.
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